Should you always set a deadline for writing projects?

Generally speaking deadlines are vital. If you want to finish a project then an end date should be factored into your plans. After all, if you don’t have a deadline in mind the project could just drift on forever.

When you’re writing for an agent or traditional publisher they will set you a deadline. This is a final, full stop, not-to-be-broken deadline. And I’m guessing all traditionally published authors hit that deadline even if it means working until the small hours of the morning or getting up before dawn has broken to finish the book.

However, without that kind of set-up it’s easy to let the pace slacken. When I worked as a journalist, deadlines were the norm and again were never broken. There was no wiggle room. The paper went to press at the same time of the day and I’ve never, ever seen it broken. In fact, I don’t know what would have happened to you if the paper had to go to print with a blank space on one of the pages. So for a number of years of my working life, I lived by a deadline.

However, I’ve never really set a deadline in my fiction writing. I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong, but it seems every time I set one, something comes along to spoil my plans. For example, because I work full-time, all it takes is a work event or project that is suddenly handed to me to take up more of my time and before I know it my writing schedule has been derailed. Either that or I get ill and lose several months of writing time. This did actually happen and ruined all my good intentions.

Every time one of these deadlines fails, I lose a little more confidence in myself. I beat myself up, feeling like I’m a failure because I can’t meet the deadline. And you can see where that psychology comes from, because I was always taught that deadlines are sacrosanct, homework had to be delivered on time or there was a punishment.

The problem with not setting a deadline is that projects do, as I said before, drift. I spent about 18 months restructuring my first novel after feedback from an editor. That was after spending about the same amount restructuring after comments from another editor. I sincerely hope the book is better for having that editing (in fact, I’m confident it is!) but should it have really taken that much time?

What I’ve realised recently is that what I do in my work life translates across to writing – always build in contingency, some slippage that allows for delays. So, I’ve cautiously set myself two new deadlines. They’re far longer than they need to be, but you never know what’s around the corner, do you? But hopefully by setting longer deadlines than necessary I’ll actually achieve them, and much sooner than the deadline.

I’m into the home straight with my structural edit of Book Two and then it’ll go off to my editor, by the date I’ve set myself. With any luck, this would mean that by September I could be working on Book Three, of which very few words are written.

And then the deadline system starts all over again!

What are your thoughts on setting deadlines? Do you have a system that you use? Feel free to drop by comments section and give me some ideas.

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2 thoughts on “Should you always set a deadline for writing projects?

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  1. I’m torn on this subject, as sometimes deadlines work for me and sometimes it all becomes too overwhelming and counterproductive. I suppose there is a science (or an art) to choosing the right amount of deadlines.

    1. I agree on that. I think if you have a publishing schedule then a headline helps. But if you don’t, then having a deadline isn’t what you need because it becomes oppressive.

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